“The magician and the politician have much in common: They both have to draw our attention away from what they are really doing.—Ben OkriCity-budget battles always seem to get Spin Cycle a little misty-eyed—but not for the reason that you might think.
Oh sure, like everyone, the prospect of closing branch libraries and recreation centers—possibly permanently—while cutting back on things like pool hours and building maintenance gets Spin Cycle's dander up. But in years past, such desperate machete slashes had always increased the chances of a visit by the elusive Magic Budget Fairy.
Loyal readers may recall previous reports on the Magic Budget Fairy, but for the newbies out there, here's a refresher course: In years past when the City Council seemed at its rope's end over budget cuts and endless pleading for ways to plug holes in the coming year's budget, out of the fog of dismay would come—almost White Knight-like—the magical savior with a goody bag of surplus millions that would save the day (and probably a few council member's jobs).
Now, in the past, Spin Cycle was enchanted by the arrival of the Magic Budget Fairy, who, as lore goes, typically would travel to the Imaginary Money Vault deep in the bowels of City Hall and come up with the surplus dough just in time to beat back the torch-wielding, death-chanting citizens and city employees before they breached the gate.
Very dramatic, indeed, but it apparently came at a price—not everyone loves the Magic Budget Fairy. Some even wonder if the Fairy still exists or whether it's taken a higher-paid position with Barack Obama's team.
City Councilmember Donna Frye, an aficionado of fairyology, believes the Magic Budget Fairy is “in hibernation, hanging on for dear life.
“To me,” Frye continued, “what the Budget Fairy, in its purest sense, represents is hope—hope that we will be able to provide to the community something that for kids and mothers and fathers lessens the pain of these budget cuts.
“Everybody misses the Budget Fairy.”
Well, not everyone.
Nationwide, references to budget fairies can be found from the coast to coast. OK, in the case of Maryland, one state senator exclaimed five years ago, “How are they going to balance this budget? Is there supposed to be some kind of budget fairy who waves her wand and magically balances the budget?” And this shouldn't be confused with the “off-budget fairy,” a favorite of the outgoing (yay!) Bush administration.
Who, you ask, dislikes the Magic Budget Fairy?
Well, Spin Cycle has attempted to decode the encrypted messages tucked into recent comments by Mayor Jerry Sanders.
“There will be no magic next time around,” Sanders predicted at a press conference early last week after the City Council had rejected his budget-hole-filling proposal to shutter branch libraries and rec centers throughout the city.
Reporters seemed to treat this as a scornful rebuke of the council's budget-cutting meekness, but could it simply have been an acknowledgement of the Magic Budget Fairy's absence?
Later in the week, Sanders told voiceofsandiego.org in a not-so-chipper pre-Thanksgiving interview that plans for a new Downtown library are all but dead. “I can't imagine that there's going to be any rabbits brought out of the hat now,” he said.
Again, a prediction, or a silent internal sigh of acceptance of the Magic Budget Fairy's hiatus from helping the city out of its budget black hole?
Rachel Laing, a mayoral spokesperson and all-around good sport, theorized that, in fact, the Magic Budget Fairy is very much alive and well and living, apparently, under the dais of the City Council.
“Come on, Donna's the Magic Budget Fairy's BFF sometimes,” she said. “You know, the council pulled out some tobacco-[settlement]-funded library-improvement fund and are basically paying the grocery bill with the savings.”Despite the mayor's recent allusions to illusions, Laing said Sanders is not secretly pining for a return of the Magic Budget Fairy.
“He doesn't need a fairy. He doesn't want special funds. He doesn't want any sleight of hand,” she explained. “All he wants is for revenues to get to an acceptable level.”
His recent “magic” references, she said, are simply a repudiation of previous efforts to gloss over budget woes with temporary fixes. “He has taken a staunch position against magic,” she argued.
Asked if Sanders is concerned about losing the support of local magicians, Laing responded, “Just tell them to keep away from the budget. Tell them to stay away from the labor unions and all the people who like to come up with magic solutions, because we do not like them. They have caused us nothing but grief.”
Yikes, Magic Budget Fairy! Keep your head down.
City Councilmember-elect Carl DeMaio, however, has—surprise!—another take. “I think the Budget Fairy is on both sides,” he said, “both on the mayor's side and the council's side.”
While the mayor and council nip around the edges of this current budget crisis, the big “cost drivers”—salaries, pension, healthcare—get ignored, DeMaio said.
“The Budget Fairy is your enabler,” he added. “The Budget Fairy tells you that nothing is wrong, that you can keep drinking but you're not drinking excessively, that anyone who says that you're having a problem isn't your true friend or family member.
“The Budget Fairy is the ultimate enabler of the addiction that the city seems to be in. I mean, you don't cut services and not deal with some of the other cost drivers because that says, ‘We're going to charge you more and give you less.'”
DeMaio thinks the mayor believes he doesn't have the votes to pursue bigger cuts. “But guess what? Leadership isn't about winning. Leadership is laying out a vision about how things ought to be and trying to do the right thing,” he said.
As for Frye's reverence of the Magic Budget Fairy, DeMaio scoffs: “So, the Budget Fairy says let's not pay the mortgage this month, but let's take the kids on vacation. How irresponsible is that? You want hopeful? It's when we actually balance the budget and then we find we have a surplus. That's hope!”
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